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Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga review: "the same gut-pummelling physicality as Fury Road"

The Mad Max universe unfurls in a technically triumphant movie, but something's missing this time out

Published: 24 May 2024

Note the title: Furiosa – A Mad Max Saga. This one is an origin story, a prequel to 2015’s Fury Road, the film that awoke Aussie traffic cop turned post-apocalyptic avenger Max Rockatansky from a 30-year cinematic slumber in magnificently deranged, multiple Oscar-winning style.

But the saga bit is also vital: director and Mad Max creative mainspring George Miller is in full world-building mode here, not just fleshing out – in more ways than one – the back story of one of Fury Road’s principal characters, but also expanding the entire Mad Max mythology. There are depraved new characters, with names like Scrotus, The People Eater and Rictus Erectus, wildly envisioned new locations, and of course crazy new vehicles. The production design on Furiosa is insane.

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As is pretty much everything else. We meet Furiosa (Alyla Browne) as an innocent, pinching a ripe peach from the Green Place of Many Mothers, a lush enclave in the desert whose Amazonian inhabitants are naturally keen to keep their existence a secret from the marauding hordes who roam the desert wastelands on motorbikes.

Unfortunately, Furiosa’s kidnap by one of these gangs results in her falling into the clutches of despotic warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who dispenses with her warrior mother Mary (Charlee Fraser) in Biblically awful style. This sets Furiosa on a path to revenge that fuels the majority of the film’s hefty 2hr 28mins running time.

Miller is a fascinating film-maker, but it’s fair to say the story-boards on the Mad Max films are more detailed than the screenplays. The grown-up Furiosa is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, a fine actor who does most of the emotional heavy lifting here with her famously expressive eyes. Good job, too, for her dialogue runs to a grand total of 30 lines. Hemsworth has more fun with Dementus, coming over like some warped Roman emperor and riding around on a chariot that’s channeling Ben-Hur, only with motorbikes instead of horses. This is a demagogue with a penchant for one-liners, although Hemsworth’s performance teeters on the precipice – and there are lots of precipices in this film – of outright camp.

When he reaches an accord with Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) over the control of Gas Town, Furiosa’s odyssey takes an even darker turn. It also introduces her to Joe’s top driver, Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), and the first incarnation of the War Rig. She bonds with both, possibly more with the gleaming truck than the man driving it.

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Furiosa takes place across 15 years and is told in a series of chapters, which ladles on the mythic schtick but unsettles the narrative flow. That said, anyone looking for Chekhov in a Mad Max film is clearly barking up the wrong tree. Furiosa is another insight into the fantastic mind of George Miller, who worked as doctor in a Sydney hospital A&E department before getting the first Mad Max film off the ground in the late Seventies. That, by the way, remains one of the all-time great B movies, bone-dry and bracingly authentic in tone.

Furiosa has the same gut-pummelling physicality as Fury Road, and its main set-piece chase is one of the most breathtaking sequences you’ll ever witness in a film. The two-section War Rig is attacked from all sides, including from the skies, and Miller’s camera swoops giddily in, out and above the besieged artic, mixing ballistic moves and frenzied micro-edits to delirious effect. This film is technically triumphant, a true team effort that unites the talents of sound, design, editing, hair and make-up, as well as the hundreds of stunt people, cinematographer and director. Lord knows how Miller manages the health and safety protocols.

There’s a lot going on, perhaps too much to keep tabs on, and yet in other ways something has gone missing. Mad Max is at its best when it’s lean, hungry and nasty. Furiosa is self-evidently part of a franchise, and pulverises you with a grandiose vision of a world gone hideously wrong. It’s an irresistible spectacle. But the core story could have done with a bit more flesh on its bones.

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Furiosa – A Mad Max Saga opens in cinemas nationwide from 24 May

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